December 24, 2009
Tier churches hail holiday message of peace
Faith invoked to counter grief, loneliness in time of war
By William Moyer
Christmas, and its refrains of peace and goodwill, dawns today on a worldly stage where American troops carry rifles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"No matter what happens around us, we can have a peace in our heart that sustains and strengthens us," said the Rev. Daniel Walton, pastor of the Little White Church in Conklin. "That is what Christmas is all about -- the giving of peace."
Not necessarily a literal peace -- although peace is a prayer of all Christians -- but an inner peace to traverse even a "blue" Christmas, an increasingly acknowledged downside to the glad tidings of the holiday.
The time from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day can accentuate grief, loss or loneliness, according to a local Lutheran pastor.
"It's OK to feel conflicted at the holidays; it's OK to feel sad; it's OK to remember what you've had and lost," said the Rev. Nadine Ridley, co-pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Vestal. "In the midst of that pain, there is hope; there is good."
Ridley said one way to find peace is to express the inner angst of a "blue" Christmas.
She suggested finding a "faith container" -- a trusted friend, professional counselor, pastor or relative -- to talk about the loss rather than pretend everything is all right. In doing so, a grieved person lessens the burden of carrying unexpressed grief, Ridley said.
After worship services on Christmas Eve, which included carols, communion and candlelight, Christians in the Southern Tier awake today to celebrate Christmas, one of the holiest days in Catholic and Protestant churches.
Not all Christians celebrate Christmas today, though.
Hundreds of Orthodox Christians in the Southern Tier will observe the Feast of the Nativity on Jan. 7. Commonly known as Orthodox Christmas, the date for this celebration is set by the older Julian calendar.
Christmas came a day early Thursday for inmates at the Broome County Correctional Facility in Dickinson. They received gift boxes from the jail ministries program of the Broome County Council of Churches.
About 400 inmates, regardless of religious affiliation, received gift bags with playing cards, note cards, stamps, candy and other small items donated by local churches, said the Rev. Joseph Sellepack, executive director of the Broome County Council of Churches. The bags were decorated with Christmas symbols by children in local churches.
"It's just something to let the inmates know we're thinking about them," Sellepack said.
Christmas, in both Eastern and Western churches, emphasizes Christianity's tenets of life, light, peace and goodwill, despite unsettled events making headlines today.
"This message is proclaimed each and every time someone carries on the work of love, grace, mercy and compassion ... such serving does not often make the headlines, but it happens in acts of faithful living every day," according the regional bishops of several denominations with churches in the Southern Tier.
The message was issued by Gladstone B. Adams, of the Episcopal Diocese; Marie Jerge, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Marcus Matthews, of the United Methodist Church; and Robert J. Cunningham, of the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse.
"These are difficult, challenging times for so many people, and can be quite frightening ... ," added Bishop Matthew H. Clark, of the Rochester diocese, which includes four Catholic parishes in Tioga County. "It can be so very overwhelming ... We can forget that there is so much more good in the world than bad."
Although the actual day when Jesus was born is unknown, Christmas evolved into a Christian celebration of his birth in the centuries after his death to coincide with secular winter festivals. Christians eventually fixed Dec. 25 as the permanent date for their observance
According to the Association of Religion Data Archives at Pennsylvania State University, roughly 108,200 of Broome County's estimated population of 196,000 residents identify themselves as Christians, including mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Catholics. In Tioga County, about 18,000 people among the estimated population of 51,000 are listed as Christians.
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